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    'They made me feel like a criminal'

    He was just having lunch in Ybor City when a surveillance camera captured his image. Weeks later, the police show up.

    [Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
    An image from Ybor City's cameras was reprinted in a national magazine. An Oklahoma woman phoned Tampa police and said the man was wanted. They sought out Rob Milliron. Yes, that's him in the image. But no, he's never been to Oklahoma. And no, he's not wanted.

    By AMY HERDY

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 8, 2001


    TAMPA -- Rob Milliron has never married. He has never had kids, never been to Oklahoma.

    Yet three Tampa police officers went to Milliron's construction job site Monday and asked him whether he was wanted in Oklahoma for child neglect.

    Milliron
    It seems that his face wound up on a surveillance camera in Ybor City. News cameras captured that image. A woman in Tulsa saw his picture in U.S. News and World Report and called Tampa police.

    She said the man in the photo was her ex-husband and was wanted on felony child neglect charges.

    Turns out they had the wrong man. But the experience has turned Milliron into a vocal critic of the controversial surveillance system.

    "From that picture, I was identified as a wanted person," said Milliron, 32, whose only previous brush with the law involved a marijuana possession charge when he was 19.

    The surveillance system uses software called Face-It and is linked to 36 cameras throughout the Centro Ybor entertainment complex and along E Seventh Avenue. Images taken from the cameras are compared with a data base that includes wanted felons and sexual offenders.

    If the image is a match, officers are dispatched to question the person. But in this case it wasn't the system that flagged Milliron, but simply a woman who saw his picture with a news story.

    The plainclothes detective, accompanied by two uniformed officers, had a copy of the magazine, folded open to the page with Milliron's photo.

    After producing identification, answering the detective's questions and enduring curious stares and inquiries from his construction co-workers, a mortified Milliron went home.

    "He was absolutely horrified," said Cheryl Toole, 32, Milliron's girlfriend of nine years.

    "He said, "I was surrounded by the police today,' " Toole recalled. "We were worried they'd come to our home in the middle of the night."

    Equally upsetting, Milliron said, was the fact that beneath his photo in the magazine, a headline read, "You Can't Hide Those Lying Eyes in Tampa."

    "It made me out to be a criminal," he said.

    Tampa police Detective Bill Todd, who took the call from the Tulsa woman and interviewed Milliron, said Milliron did not seem upset.

    "He was laughing about it," said Todd, who spearheaded the software project that captured Milliron's image.

    Milliron's photograph was captured in June while he was on a lunch break in Ybor City.

    He didn't know it at the time, but the Police Department used his photo to demonstrate the system to local news media.

    The software costs $30,000, but is on loan for a year by its owner, Visionics Corp. of New Jersey, while the department decides whether to purchase it.

    Milliron's photo ran in the St. Petersburg Times June 30. A caption under the photo read, "The man in this image was not identified as wanted."

    The Times later sold the photo to U.S. News and World Report.

    The software system has sparked controversy nationwide. Protesters say the "spy cameras" intrude on citizens' privacy. Mayor Dick Greco, however, has said the system is no more intrusive than the cameras found in banks and shopping malls.

    Milliron, who says he plans to retain an attorney, hopes the software system will be removed.

    "I don't think it's right," he said. "They made me feel like a criminal."

    - Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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